Optimizing the Hospital Contact Center to Efficiently Service More Patients
In the handful of years since the Affordable Care Act expanded coverage to millions of previously uninsured and underinsured Americans, hospitals and health systems have seen an increase in patients. The influx has meant that the number of incoming phone calls has skyrocketed for healthcare organizations. As systems struggle to handle increased patient volume, upgrading contact center services is proving to be an important venture.
Regardless of the current state of a contact center’s operations, virtually every healthcare organization can make improvements to better serve patients and staff and strengthen their bottom line. Organizations can do this by accurately identifying where they are on the contact center maturity curve, asking smart questions about readiness to move forward and strategically deploying technology.
Hospitals and health systems are at widely different junctures on the journey toward modernizing their contact centers. Therefore, as part of planning for upgrades, organizations should perform a self-examination and determine what level of operation they are at currently. Some of the questions teams can ask as they work to identify where they are on the maturity curve include:
- Are our contact center systems and processes on par with our competitors?
- How many sources of patient data do we currently use?
- Are we tracking and leveraging patient communication preferences in our EHR? Are we using those preferences?
- Are we routing callers through a “single front door” regardless of the phone number they dial?
- Do our agents have the ability to schedule for all physicians within a respective specialty (including primary care) or clinic, both hospital and ambulatory?
By considering these and other questions, hospitals and health systems can start to understand their contact center’s maturity level and how much room there is for growth and improvement. The next step is to think about what it will take to actually implement change, and evaluate readiness. To do this, organizations may want to ask questions like:
- How comfortable are we when it comes to adopting new technologies?
- Is our organization committed to embracing technology so we can maximize operational efficiencies and effectiveness while still maintaining the human touch?
- How much do we prioritize providing a “world class” access experience for our patients and providers?
Cultural challenges sometimes make focusing on contact center optimization difficult for hospitals and health systems, because the culture within many organizations does not support contact center investments. Unfortunately, when hospitals and health systems neglect contact center updates, patient experiences and satisfaction suffer. For hospitals, maintaining high patient satisfaction is more important than ever because the financial impact of patient experiences has increased due to consumerization and value-based payment programs.
One solution that may help generate support for contact center updates is to conduct an evaluation of the competitive risk of not modernizing. The results of a competitive analysis may help spur internal support for technology upgrades and other contact center improvements.
Technology is obviously an essential part of every successful contact center, which is why so many have adopted physician answering services to help manage call volumes. With the right technology and a strategic plan for how to use it, hospitals and health systems can offer features like a single entryway into their organization, predictive interactive voice response and automatic data pass with transfers. For the following outlined reasons, these contact center features are must-haves for modern contact centers.
- A Single Entryway – Having a single point of entry for all patients ensures that every patient is greeted with a consistently branded user experience. It also means less confusion and frustration for callers and staff. When calls are routed through an automated centralized phone system, efficiency increases. Overall, hospitals have more control over each caller’s experience when calls are routed through one main gateway.
- Intelligent Predictive Interactive Voice Response – Interactive voice response (IVR) systems allow hospitals to automate call routing and handle higher volumes of calls. Also, an intelligent IVR makes navigation easier for patients because it can detect what they need. Ideally, when a patient calls a hospital, the IVR system will authenticate the patient, identify possible reasons for their call and connect them to the appropriate destination. The right IVR technology will not only make communications more efficient, but also more patient centered.
- Automatic Data Pass with Transfers – Staff can better and more quickly assist callers if background information is transferred with each incoming call. Without automatic data pass there is typically a lot of duplication when team members end up asking patients for information they have already provided. Rather than having staff repeat work by asking questions and gathering info that has already been collected, teams can rely on technology to automatically provide necessary data.
Utilizing technology to drive automation, increase efficiency and improve patient experiences should be the aim for hospitals and health systems. Finding ways to do these things requires an understanding of current contact center operations, executive buy-in and, in most cases, technology updates. While there are challenges that come along with modernization, contact center improvements allow healthcare organizations to better service a larger number of patients.